- Associated Press - Sunday, August 10, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A state agency is turning a highway median in southern Ohio into a honeybee paradise in an effort to create habitats for a bee population that has been declining in recent years.

The Ohio Department of Transportation planted wildflower seeds in two, 1-acre lots along Ohio 207 in Ross County in June to start a three-year process creating habitats for bees and other pollinators.

The flowers are intended to provide much-needed food for Ohio honeybees while also beautifying the road, The Columbus Dispatch (https://bit.ly/1ykaUyO) reported.

The seeds, which are beginning to germinate, are a mix of native Ohio wildflowers and were planted as a combined mix so that they will grow successively,” said Kathleen Fuller, ODOT’s District 9 spokeswoman.

Bee populations have been dropping in recent years, as trends in agriculture affect their food supply, said Reed Johnson, an entomology professor at Ohio State University. “There’s been a shift in agriculture toward corn, and corn doesn’t really do anything for pollinators.”

Increasing numbers of diseases and pests in recent years also have thinned colonies and threatened the agriculture industry. Between 50 and 80 percent of bees kept by registered Ohio beekeepers died over the past winter, the newspaper reported.

Last year, Ohio had 4,390 registered beekeepers tending an estimated 37,000 colonies at 7,199 apiaries.

Ohio farmers rely on bees to pollinate more than 70 crops, including apples, strawberries and pumpkins. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says honeybees nationwide pollinate more than $14 billion in crops each year.

Pollinator habitats such as those in Ross County can help boost bee population and honey harvests, which also have seen decreases, Johnson said.

“Bees depend on flowers. They only eat nectar and pollen, and the only place to get nectar and pollen is from flowers.”

Other states around the country facing declining bee populations also have started developing pollinator habitats along roadsides and in other places, and other parts of Ohio are taking note of the project.

An ODOT district that includes Columbus and Franklin County and one that includes Cincinnati and Hamilton County already are choosing planting sites, Fuller said.

“People are excited about doing this,” ODOT engineer Dianne Kahal-Berman said. “They want to be a part of it.”

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, https://www.dispatch.com

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